The buzz for Indian election has been prevalent for the last two years. The disenchantment and disillusion with United Progressive Alliance’s policy had made people impatient in welcoming new government, which will drive this country towards prudent economic policies, better governance, enactment of entitlement based rights and robust foreign policies. The name which comes in the thought simultaneously with Election 2014 is the name of the Poster boy of Bhartiya Janta Party Narendra Modi. Narendra Modi has been the member of famous Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and chosen as the Chief Minister of Indian State Gujarat in 2001 after Bhuj earthquake. During his regime, Gujarat witnessed a massive riot in 2002 after the burning of a train in Godhara. Narendra Modi is named in multiple cases for alleged involvement in Post-Godhra riots. Some of the officers of Gujarat government also alleged Modi for not allowing state machineries to suppress or control rioters of majority community. But, Modi got clean chit from Special investigation Tribunal and other courts of Gujarat. Despite having blot of arranging riots in Gujarat, he was chosen for the third term as the chief minister of Gujarat in 2013.
I am not interested in Modi’s credentials or his failures as the chief minister of Gujarat but about the narratives posed against Modi and Bhartiya Janta Party in media and books. The party, Bhartiya Janta Party to which Modi belongs is termed as ‘fascist’ by most of the writers. This term fascism has long history in the politics of India but at most of the places this term is unjustified in essence and the concept. This term was first applied to Mussolini’s regime and later it was applied to other regimes such as Hitler, Franco (Spain), Salazar (Portugal) and Peron (Argentina) which were quite different from the Italian version of fascism. The ideology of fascism never produced any great theoretical writer who could explain the philosophies enshrined in this ideology. So, fascism never produced something which can tell that these are the certain basic principles of this system. The historical research on the Mussolini’s regime tells us certain basic principles of fascism like extreme nationalism, a totalitarian system of government, one-party state, autarchy, military strength and use of violence. The use of violence can be seen from the poem of Martin Niemoller written in the period of Jewish holocaust
First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me
Mussolini once remarked, ‘Peace is absurd: fascism does not believe in it’. So, when Mussolini introduced fascist state in Italy, he suppressed all the parties except fascist, brought changes in the local government, imposed censorship, supervised education, changed employment policies etc to control over state affairs. The government aided to promote co-operation between employers and workers to end class warfare in corporations what is known as “corporate state”. Trade unions controlled by fascists had the sole right to negotiate for the workers. Strikes and lockouts were banned. To compensate worker’s loss of freedom, they were incentivised as free Sundays, annual holidays with pay, social security, sports and theatre facilities etc. Mussolini murdered or exiled all his opponents. Constitution was amended to grant Mussolini unlimited power and now he was only accountable to king, not to the parliament. Elected town councils and mayors were abolished and town were run by fascist officials. In education, the main messages were total obedience and submission to the authority and indoctrination of youth with the brilliance of the Duce and glories of war. Through Latern Treaty (1929), the state of Italy reached an understanding with the pope and accepted Vatican City as sovereign state, paid large sum of money to pope for his losses and Catholic faith as the official state religion. Mussolini tried to establish a totalitarian system however he was not as successful as Hitler was in Germany.
The policies of Italian fascist regime were not anti-jew until 1938. From 1938, Mussolini started imitating Hitler and started adopting Nazi practices and the distinction between Nazism and Fascism became blurred. Mussolini in his book The Doctrine of Fascism (1941) writes
“Fascism stands for liberty, and for the only liberty worth having, the liberty of the State and of the individual within the State. The Fascist conception of the State is all embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism, is totalitarian, and the Fascist State – a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values – interprets, develops, and potentates the whole life of the people.
The concept of freedom is not absolute because nothing is ever absolute in life. Freedom is not a right, it is a duty. It is not a gift, it is a conquest; it is not equality, it is a privilege. The concept of freedom changes with the passing of time. There is a freedom in times of peace which is not the freedom of times of war. There is a freedom in times of prosperity which is not a freedom to be allowed in times of poverty.”
So, patriotism was replaced by nationalism or nationalistic jingoism and Italy was looking for a small reason to fight a war like the Italian invasion of Abyssinia (October 1935) etc. Broadly there are two interpretations of the fascist era. First interpretation finds that it was a temporary aberration in Italian history and Historian A. Cassels calls it ‘a gigantic confidence trick perpetrated on the Italian nation by Benito Mussolini- an artificial creation of Mussolini’ and the second, now accepted account finds it grew naturally from Italian history, the environment and the circumstances shaped the rise and success of it and not the vice versa. The Italian historian Renzo de Felice (1977) argues “the fascist movement was mainly one of an emerging middle class eager to challenge the traditional, liberal political class for power. The spirit of this middle class was optimistic, vital and creative; it was, in fact, a revolutionary phenomenon”. However, British Historian Martin Blinkhorn does not accept this thesis and alleges de Felice of not seeing the negative and brutal sides of fascism. But, it was the effect of disenchantment of middle class from the activities of ruling class to modernize economy and Mussolini tried it to convert into autocratic and totalitarian system.
If we compare the rule of Bhartiya Janta Party (NDA coalition) especially between 1998 and2004 then we will not be able to find all the essentials elements of fascism. The NDA rule was not an autocratic rule; it was a democratically elected government and its economic policies were revolutionary in nature like privatisation of Public Sector Companies, opening up of economy, social sector spending and efficiency of social security schemes. This regime started Special export processing zone, industrial parks, information parks, National Highway Authority of India etc to boost economic growth. NDA government started Pravasi Bhartiya Samman to boost investment in India by Non-Resident Indians and initiated the process of Overseas Citizen of India. The economic policy showed economic growth in the Vajpayee time and also in UPA-I regime. UPA- I regime because neoliberal adjustments take some time to convert into output. There was no such enactment of labour law to curtail the freedom of the workers or trade unions. India won the Kargil War of 1999 which was the result of Musharaff’s expansionary and anti-India thinking. But, before Kargil war, Vajpayee government started a new paradigm in Indo-Pak relationship through the visit of Indian Prime Minister to Pakistan and started Delhi-Lahore bus service and Track II diplomacy between India and Pakistan became stronger after this. There was no such nationalistic Jingoism as expected by any fascist government.
In 2002, the Indian state of Gujarat ruled by Bhartiya Janta Party experienced tragic communal riots which perturbed the entire nation. The government at Delhi strongly condemned it but it did not invoked Article 356 of Indian constitution or proclamation of emergency in the state. There was some delay in sending and deploying the army to Gujarat. This was really distressing for most of the people of this country to experience this medieval act of barbarism by majority groups over minority groups. The dormant state of the state created an environment of free ride for majority community in Gujarat. The plurality of India was questioned or the ‘idea of India’ was disturbed. But, communal riots and inactivity of state during communal riots in India was not novel. 1948 Hyderabad massacre, 1969 Gujarat riots, Moradabad riots 1980, Mandai Massacre 1980, Nellie Massacre 1983, anti-Sikh riots 1985, Bhagalpur riots 1989, Kashmir riots of 1990s, Bombay riots 1992-93, 2002 Gujarat violence, 2013 Mujaffarnagar riots and so on show us the inactivity of state during communal riots. If we will look before Independence then it will add some more cases in this category.
There had been some changes in the education system but it was not a change which can be compared with fascist regime. The BJP led government did not try to censor the media houses rather the boom in private media industry came in its regime. One can see other areas and their performances. In a lecture delivered in Aligadh Muslim University Arundhati Roy characterised BJP government as ‘fascist’. She used the term ‘fascist’ eleven times in a paragraph to talk about BJP government in New Delhi. However, her credentials as a Marxist is highly doubtful and some people even named her brand of Marxism ‘Sharia Bolshevism’. But simple Google search can tell us about the popularity of the use of term ‘fascist’ for BJP. Most of the authors and media person says that BJP is the political wing of the fascist organisation RSS and it is responsible for the politics of Hindutva. It is responsible for the demolition of Babri Mosque in 1991, which led to nationwide communal riots in the aftermath of demolition. The core ideology of BJP is the creation of ‘Hindu rashtra’. So, it is being run by fascist ideologies. The ideology of BJP is towards ‘right’ but it did not try to break the fabric of this country in the time of its rule. Terming BJP government as fascist will be severe underestimation of the democratic ethos of the people of this country and overestimation of the power of any political party.
If we see other political parties in this country then we will find the existence of party around one leader and this ‘the leader’ is being worshipped in party forums. The regional parties of India are deeply conservative about the rights and responsibilities of individuals and young men who can threaten violence in the state submit themselves to these regional leaders. These regional parties support the idea of primordial identities and caste consciousness is given more importance in the political spheres. It is easy for criminals to get the patronage of these regional cult personalities and get the nomination for the elections. Most of the regional parties are based on some identity rather on ideology like Bahujan Samaj party and Lok Janshakti Party is based on Dalit identity, Rashtriya Janta Dal and Samajwadi party on Yadav identity, in the south Dravid Munetra Kargham and All India Dravida Munetra Kargham is based on anti-Brahmin identity and so on. All these regional parties are very conservative in their ideologies and engage themselves in moral policing. The rise of “khap panchayat’ is one such phenomenon in Haryana and Rajashthan. They engage in political theatrics and uses extra-constitutional means to assert power in the state. These can also be termed as ‘fascist’ parties in the sense of left leaning media and writers.
We cannot compare the ‘ideological notion’ of these parties with fascist government philosophy rather we will have to compare the practices of these parties with the fascist practices keeping variables like values, ethos, norms etc of the society not constant then only we can find those parties which are fascist in practice. The other way round comparison will give same results for Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini and other autocratic leaders. One cannot say BJP as a fascist party in the sense of fascism and use of this term in common parlance will not only defame political parties of this country but also the masses of this country as the one who are accepting the rule of ethnic cleanser autocratic regime.